Politics and Governance in the UK

Second edition

by Michael Moran

Update 47 - June 2014

Small earthquake in Brussels

There can be little doubt that the onward march of federal Europe has been halted, in Britain and across much more of the European Union. But we should be wary to reading too much into short term arguments between the leaders of the member states about future developments. This is particularly so in the case of appointments to European positions, which are notoriously subject to politicking and jockeying for position. The observation is exemplified by the decision of the EU heads of state to appoint Jean-Claude Juncker as the next President of the European Commission – the head of the Brussels bureaucracy. It amounts to a very small earthquake in Brussels – or to me more exact in Ypres, where the meeting of leaders was held. The fact that Juncker was appointed after a vote, rather than through a backroom deal, and one in which David Cameron was in a minority of two (the Hungarian leader joined him in opposing Juncker’s appointment) has been greeted journalistically as an apocalyptic event. In fact it is pretty par for the European course, in two senses. First, it has nothing to do with future course of Europe, and everything to do with configurations of domestic politics. Juncker is President because he retained the support of the most powerful European leader, Chancellor Merkel of Germany; and he retained this (despite Frau Merkel’s reservations about him) because she was hemmed in by domestic German opinion, and because, as the head of a grand coalition with the Social Democrats, she is not a free agent. Second, on the other side of the argument, Mr Cameron’s stance is in the great EU tradition of grandstanding: of creating a first class row at European level in order to display strength for home consumption. Mr Cameron’s critics depict him as displaying ineptness in EU diplomacy, but in the grandstanding tradition this was a bravura performance: Britain standing alone against the might of the European mainland. The fact that he stood virtually alone was not a mistake; it was a tactically shrewd move. It only required the Dad’s Army signature to complete the performance. And in the light of what we saw above about the fragility of the UKIP support, it will have done the Conservative Party no harm at all in preparing for the May 2015 General Election.